Rep. Issa Tries To Stop His Own Witness From Testifying On Weak Gun Trafficking Laws

June 15, 2011 12:25 pm ET — Matt Gertz

We're repeatedly asked whether Rep. Darrell Issa's (R-CA) hearings into a controversial ATF operation that allowed certain shipments of firearms to cross the border into Mexico would also address the weak statutory authority that law enforcement are forced to rely on to prevent trafficking to Mexican drug cartels. Today, we learned that law enforcement witnesses called by Issa are eager to discuss the issue, but the Oversight Committee chairman is willing to do everything in his power to stop that problem from coming to the forefront.

During this morning's hearing, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) asked ATF Special Agent Peter Forcelli whether he has heard that district judges criticize the prosecutions of straw purchasers as "paper violations" because they are based on statutes that carry such low penalties. Forcelli replied, "I have, and I agree with it," and called for a one-year mandatory minimum sentence for such offenses to better deter purchasers. Issa immediately broke in to cut off this line of discussion, saying that the witness was testifying outside of the scope of the hearing. 

MALONEY: Border state U.S. attorneys have complained that district court judges view these prosecutions as mere paper violations, and have you heard this criticism before?

FORCELLI: I do, and I agree with it. I think perhaps a mandatory minimum one year sentence might deter an individual from buying a gun. Some people view this as no more consequential than doing 65 in a 55

MALONEY: And the Justice Department—

ISSA: If the gentlelady will suspend, I want to caution the witnesses that the scope of your testimony here is limited, and it is not about proposed legislation and the like, and under House rules would not fall within the scope of this, so anecdotally you can have opinions, but ultimately it would not be considered valid testimony.


After an extended exchange between Issa and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) in which Cummings said that Issa couldn't tell the witness what to testify to, Maloney explained why this line of questioning is crucial.

ISSA: I'd only caution we're not here to talk about proposed gun legislation. That would be outside the scope of this hearing.

MALONEY: I wasn't discussing that. I was trying to figure out why the Justice Department and the [Inspector General] found that prosecutors often decline these gun cases. I want to know why they're declining them. And to quote from the testimony, one of you said because they believe it is difficult to obtain convictions in these violations.


The question remains: why doesn't Issa want law enforcement to testify on what they believe they need to stop gun trafficking to Mexican cartels?